Tag Archives: same – sex marriage

“To Have and to Hold” – Theology of Marriage Conference

A one-day conference on the theology of marriage in the light of equal marriage

London, September 27th 2014

Hosted by The LGBT Anglican Coalition

Recognising current unease in the Church of England over same-sex marriage, the conference will ask whether there is a theological basis for expanding the definition of marriage. If so, what might a theology of equal marriage include?

To Have and to Hold

Civil Partnerships: CSCS Submission to UK Government Consultation

Civil Partnership Review ( England & Wales): a consultation

INTRODUCTION – This submission is offered by the Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality, a unique UK-based ecumenical network specifically engaged in Christian communities’ need for a contemporary theology of sexuality and gender. CSCS provides opportunities for issues of sexuality and gender identity to be discussed honestly and openly, and aims to help others in the Churches to provide similar opportunities.

Same Sex Marriage
Same Sex Marriage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Q1 What are your views about abolishing the legal relationship of civil partnership once same sex couples can marry? Please choose one answer only.

We believe civil partnership should not be abolished because in as much as they exist for same-sex partners they offer a particularity of legal, social, and informal religious recognition as an alternative to existing civil or religious marriage. Civil partnerships were introduced to address the widely acknowledged problem that same sex couples in long-term, permanently intended relationships did not share the same legal protections enjoyed by married heterosexual couples, including next-of-kin, inheritance, and pension rights, as well as other benefits. Notwithstanding their reluctance to embrace same-sex marriage per se most main- stream Christian bodies in the UK now accept the importance of civil partnerships as contributing to the common good of the wider society. There are many people who do not, in conscience, wish to contract marital status, either for religiously theological reasons, or who on grounds of a firmly held secular belief reject the institution of marriage. Such objections are not based on an empty ideology. To abolish civil partnerships would be unfair to those couples who wish to retain this status, introducing an historic inequality that CPs are perceived as unequal and inferior to marriage. Abolition of CPs would make it compulsory either for existing civil partners to get married or to separate. Such an enforced change would result in those who refused such a transition to end up in a social and legal limbo. Given the inequalities which continue to exist, particularly for transgender people and lesbian women in certain areas of civil partnership legal and pension rights, it is imperative that the Government introduces secondary legislation to the Civil Partnerships Act.

Q2 Once marriage is available to same sex couples, do you think it should still be possible for couples to form a civil partnership as an alternative to marrying?

Yes – To remove this option, after 60,000 + couples have civilly-partnered, assumes on no evidence that all future same-sex couples would prefer marital status. For many, including people of faith, the language of marriage is loaded with unwelcome meaning. The vocabulary of ‘husband’, denoting possession of a partner as property, in the way that we use ‘husbanding our resources’, and ‘wife’ as indicating an outdated mode of dependency, although rejected by many contemporary married heterosexuals, maintains a marriage culture which is rejected by a significant number of people today. If CPs were abolished the impact on those remaining in such unions could be severe, as their relationships would be perceived as a socially abandoned form of relationship, with negative effects. The language of ‘upgrading’ from civil partnership to marriage, even if not in any proposed legislation, should be rejected vehemently in any official guidance or government statements. Many of us find this attitude highly offensive and would propose the use of ‘convert’ to describe such a legal transition.

Q3 What are your views about extending civil partnership to opposite sex couples? Please choose one answer only.

We believe civil partnership should be extended to opposite-sex couples because a commitment to equality, human rights, and social justice compels us to wish to see this extended to all couples. There has been dramatic social change in understanding the nature and diversity of human relationships. Extending CPs to all couples in a personal and sexual relationship would be consistent with broadening the definition of recognised relationship and familial choices within contemporary society. Opposite-sex couples should have had this option from the outset of CP’s, providing an alternative to those wishing to secure the material benefits of a recognised partnership without having to become part of the institution of marriage which for conscience, and not simply ideological reasons, they reject. Statistical evidence is lacking to establish how many adults, currently co-habitees, would opt for civil partnerships, if available to them. Anecdotally, a number of those who have felt constrained to undertake existing civil marriage state that they would have preferred a civil partnership option if it had been available to them. Making CPs available to opposite-sex couples would secure greater economic security, not least for those with responsibilities of care for children, vulnerable adults, or older dependent family members. This would also be consistent with policies to strengthen legally recognised relationships, by offering alternative choices. The restriction of CPs to same-sex couples has implied a ‘not-quite-equal’ status, and this has also informed, unhelpfully, some of the same-sex marriage debates. Providing opposite- sex CPs would remove the requirement on trans-people to end their civil partnership when transitioning in gender. Recognising opposite-sex relationships, not called marriage, might also be welcomed by some bisexual people.

Q4 Given the choice between forming a civil partnership or living together as an opposite sex couple, which would you personally prefer? Please choose one answer only.

This question does not apply to us. In this formulation it can only be answered by individuals/couples, and not institutions.

Q5 Given the choice of forming a civil partnership or marrying your opposite sex partner, which would you personally prefer? Please choose one answer only.

This question does not apply to us. In this formulation it can only be answered by individuals/couples, and not institutions.

Q6 Are there any costs and benefits which are not included in this document linked to:

Stopping new civil partnerships being formed reinforces a view that these are inferior to marriage. It also raises issues about how legal relationships from other jurisdictions can be fully recognised within the legal systems of England & Wales, and by extension to Scotland & Northern Ireland.

Q7 Are there any detailed implementation issues which are not included in this document linked to:

Would it be possible, in future, to convert a civil marriage into a civil partnership? In the interests of equality would it be possible for those opposite-sex couples who civilly-married because this was the only option open to them be able to convert such a status into a civil partnership on the grounds of their right to ‘freedom of conscience, thought, and belief’ ? More detail is required about the conversion of civil partnerships into marriage, and vice versa. It should be made more straightforward for couples where one member undertakes gender transition to translate their civil partnership into marriage, and vice versa. Continuity of such relationships should be emphasised.

Q8 Are there any proposals for changes to the legal terminology and processes for forming civil partnerships which are consistent with civil partnership being different from marriage?

There should be greater legal flexibility for those religious bodies who wish to register civil partnerships in their buildings, or those shared with other faith-groups. The distinctive nature of same-sex civil partnerships needs to be acknowledged in guidance to and training for civil registrars. This might then prevent such persons claiming spurious conscience grounds on ‘religious belief’ to refuse to register such unions.

Q9 Are there other options for civil partnership which have not been raised so far but which are within the scope of the review and consistent with its principles?

Should a civil partnership be allowed to be dissolved for the express purpose of a marriage taking place, or should it be that a marriage in itself dissolves a previous civil partnership between that same couple ? There will be some who do not wish to simply convert their civil partnership as a purely administrative or bureaucratic action, but wish to be married in a civil or religious wedding ceremony and so would have to find some technical reason for dissolving their civil partnership in order that a valid marriage could take place. It would be detrimental to remove the ability of religious buildings and organisations to host civil partnerships, and this should be extended to the realm of religious marriage for those who so wish.

Q10 Are there people who share a relevant protected characteristic other than those identified above who would be particularly affected by a decision to make, or notto make, one or more the potential changes to civil partnership highlighted in section 3.1 of this document?

The abolition of civil partnerships would promote historical and institutional discrimination against lesbian women and gay men who are, or were, in civil partnerships, as it would imply that such unions were second-rate and unequal to other legally recognised relationships. It is important in a plural democracy that formally recognised beliefs and not simply ‘personal opinions or interpretations’ conscientiously held by minorities should be respected by both the state and faith-communities themselves, where they do not undermine the practice of the majority. It is also necessary to protect those with a conscientiously-held religious belief which does not enable them to embrace same-sex marriage, including some same-sex, civilly-partnered couples who consider their unions to be already ‘sacramental’ – even if not formally recognised as such by their religious denominations. The retention and extension of civil partnerships will do nothing to undermine the validity of same-sex or opposite sex marriage, but will provide a structure whereby those who retain this conviction will not be excluded from the legal and public benefits of their union, but will be able to do so without doing violence to their right to ‘freedom of conscientious, thought, and belief.’

4.4 Additional research/information on same-sex unions

In the absence of much recent research there are a number of websites which contain useful resources and express the diversity of views within faith-communities on the topic of same and opposite sex civil unions and marriage:

  • www.christianityandsexuality.org;
  • www.queeringthechurch.com ;
  • www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk ;
  • www.cuttingedgeconsortium.co.uk ;
  • http://newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com
  • www.ekklesia.co.uk
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Church of England: “Retain Civil Partnerships”

When the UK government legislated for same – sex marriage last year, some unresolved issues remained around civil partnerships: would they disappear, or be retained as an alternative to marriage for same – sex couples? What would be the status of existing civil partnerships, would they be automatically converted to marriage, or would those couples have to take part in a deliberate conversion process? Should civil partnerships become available for opposite – sex couples, as a mark of full equality?

The government has been engaged in a public consultation process on these issues, for which the closing date is Thursday, April 17th.  The Church of England has now published its submission, which urges that these be retained as an option for same – sex couples, but should not be extended to opposite – sex couples.


The bishops state emphatically that they are in favour of retaining civil partnerships, essentially on the grounds of religious freedom: some people in these relationships will see same – sex marriage as in conflict with their religious beliefs :

…..abolishing civil partnership would pose an invidious choice for those who may, on grounds of religious conviction or for other reasons, not wish to enter a same sex marriage.

Whilst civil partnership and marriage confer effectively the same legal standing upon a relationship, there remain important differences. The differences are especially important for many Christians who accept the churches’ traditional teaching both on marriage and on sexual behaviour. As civil partnership is not marriage and also involves no presumption that the relationship is sexually active, it offers an important structure for the public validation of the relationship of a same sex couple who wish to live in accordance with the church’s traditional teaching. If civil partnership was to be abolished, such couples would be faced with the unjust choice of either marrying (which might conflict with their religious beliefs about the nature of marriage) or losing all public and legal recognition of their relationship.

On the other hand, the bishops do not wish to see any need to extend civil partnerships to opposite – sex couples.

We do not believe that a case has been made for extending civil partnerships to opposite sex couples. Our arguments for the retention of civil partnership are based on the need to maintain an option for those same sex couples who wish for proper recognition of their relationship but do not believe that their relationship is identical to “marriage”. It is much less clear what comparable disadvantage arises from the absence of opportunity for opposite sex couples to form civil partnerships.

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CoE Bishops’ Statement on UK Same Sex Marriage – Not Truly “Pastoral”

In response to the imminent introduction of same – sex marriage in England, the Church of England House of Bishops has released a statement on suggestions for Anglicans to deal with the new situation, both for couples wanting church approval for their unions, and for lesbian or gay clergy wishing to marry. The document is called “‘Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage’, but in the view of the CSCS trustees, expressed in this public statement, this document is


CSCS calls on pro same-sex marriage Bishops to speak out 

The Centre for the Study of Christianity (CSCS) supports, unequivocally, the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 which enables same-sex couples to celebrate equal civil marriage with effect, in England and Wales, from 29 March 2014. CSCS rejoices with sisters and brothers in Liberal and Reformed Judaism, the Society of Friends, and Unitarian Free Christian Churches who have opted-in, to enable such marriages to be celebrated on their premises. CSCS also recognises that amongst people of faith and none, diverse theological and ideological positions might be held regarding same-sex marriage.

 Following its Annual Conference, Redefining Marriage?, held in Birmingham on 15 February 2014, CSCS expresses serious concern at the possible impact of Church of England House of Bishops so-called ‘Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage’. This, and the letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, appear to pre-empt the process of facilitated conversation, listening and reflection, called for by the Pilling Report and referred to in the 27 January 2014 Statement from the College of Bishops. The House of Bishops latest statement sets down answers, even before many of the questions have been asked.

Any true pastoral process in the LGBT context should begin with a listening to, and analysis of, the lived experience of people of faith, particularly its LGBT members, their parents, spouses, and families. It should then proceed to reflect on this in the light of developing, and not fixed, understandings of scripture, tradition, and reason. The latter should not rely on un-reformed views of natural law but, discerning the signs of the times, encompass the insights of contemporary thinkers in the fields of gender, sexuality, anthropology and other human sciences. The House of Bishops’ Statement, and indeed the Pilling Report show little evidence of such engagement.

 The Bishops’ Statement, if taken as authoritative even for the time being, could lead to pastoral chaos, as well as unwarranted intrusion into the lives and consciences of Church of England laity and clergy. We call upon those Bishops of the Church of England who have hitherto expressed support for same-sex marriage to come out and clearly state whether the House of Bishops Statement of the 15 February 2014 is issued in their name and with their support. If it is not we urge them to disassociate themselves from the Statement, declining to implement its proposed policies and procedures in their Dioceses.


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The Distorted Christian Tradition of Marriage

As the prospect of gay marriage is once again in the news in some American states, American Catholic Bishops are once again railing against the supposed dangers inherent in marriage equality. I am not going to review the flaws in their arguments, or their outlandish claims.  There is one recent statement, though, that cannot be allowed to pass without the strongest objection.   In one cardinal’s words, “We are followers of Jesus Christ, so our message must be what he proclaimed”.

Really? So why then does that cardinal – and leaders in other Churches who take a similar line – not pay closer attention to what Jesus actually said and demonstrated on the subject?

The “official” Catholic understanding of marriage has nothing at all to do with anything taught or demonstrated by Jesus Christ, in words or example. He said nothing at all about marriage, except that it could not be ended in divorce, and nothing at all against same – sex relationships.  Instead, he clearly did much to show by his actions his inclusion of all.

Nor does the modern Church understanding of marriage match that of Paul, who recommended celibacy for those who could cope with it, but for those who could not, recommended marriage as a remedy for lust – not for procreation. Nor is there anything in Paul’s letters that would have been understood as an unequivocal condemnation of homoerotic sexuality by his Greek and Roman audiences, for whom such relationships were commonplace and seen as entirely natural.   It is true that there are some ambiguous hints at a natural Jewish unease with the homoerotic, and it is also true that some of the later letters attributed to Paul proclaim a higher doctrine of marriage.  But the good ol’ proper confetti-and-all virgin-on-the-wedding-night 100%-hetero image of marriage proclaimed by the Catholic Bishops and other conservatives has no foundation whatever in Scripture.

Nor does the bishops’ understanding of marriage agree with that of the earliest Church fathers, many of whom, following Paul, recommended celibacy – even in marriage. Tertullian, for instance, who was himself married, warned his readers that those who marry and want to produce children are being thoughtless. .At about the same time Origen, who was also married, castrated himself to remove sexual temptations.

Nor is the distortion in the modern Christian understanding of marriage limited to the imagined necessary link between marriage and procreation. It also extends to the ceremony itself, where marriage is so often confused with the wedding. For most of Christian and Jewish history, in contrast, these were two completely separate concepts, symbolically marked by a betrothal, public or private, well before the wedding (often years before). This betrothal could be public, often in childhood with arranged marriages, or if later, it could be private – with the commencement of cohabitation. In such cases, the concept of cohabitation before marriage was self- contradictory: the marriage was seen as commencing with the onset of a sexual relationship in a shared household. The public celebration in the wedding followed later, possibly with the onset of pregnancy or even after childbirth.

This conflation of marriage and the wedding has had some disastrous side-effects on modern marriage, with far too much attention paid to planning the wedding as a grand and memorable party, and not nearly enough on the solemn commitment of the marriage. The result, as Mark Jordan notes in “Blessing Same-Sex Unions”, in most modern weddings, the chief presider over “traditional” church weddings is no longer the priest or minister, but the wedding planner, closely followed by the photographer, the caterer and the florist.

In opposing gay marriage and same-sex relationships, the American Catholic bishops and their followers are emphatically NOT following the example or proclamation of Jesus Christ, as they falsely claim, but Vatican ideology, as developed from what Joseph Ratzinger once described as the “distorting tradition” in Christian history, which should be strongly resisted and exposed for what it is.

Terry Weldon

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“Theology and Sexuality”: Volume 18, no 1

6 Articles in this issue:

Theology & Sexuality

You can view selected content online free of charge and also sign up for free table of contents alerts at www.maneyonline.com/tas

Members of CSCS (Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality) are able to include a reduced price subscription to the Theology and Sexuality journal, bundled with their society membership.

Sexual and gender issues in the Church of England: three notes

Anthony Woollard

Gay Marriage

Before getting into the topic of gay marriage we first have to ask whether gay relationships in any form can ever be right or good.  There is no getting away from the fact that the tiny handful of direct references to homosexuality in Scripture are pretty condemnatory.  On the other hand, Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, condemns many other things – from lending out money at interest, to eating pork, to wearing clothes with mixed fibres – and we don’t necessarily regard those condemnations as binding today.  So why is homosexuality different?

Many people, religious or not, would still see homosexuality as unnatural; surely men and women are meant, or have evolved, to mate with each other and not with their own sex, primarily in order to produce children.  Yet something like what we call homosexuality occurs fairly widely in nature[1].  It is no more unnatural in a literal sense than, say, left-handedness.  And it may be worth remembering that left-handed people – “sinister” people in Latin – have also at times been regarded as unnatural, and persecuted[2].

For most of history, in many cultures, gay people have been regarded as things of horror and pushed to the margins of society, not allowed to form public relationships.  The writers of Scripture could not have known what we now know – that gay people can enter into loving, stable, productive relationships and play a part in the mainstream of society.

We must avoid looking at a few texts in isolation.  A very wise Evangelical used to say “A text without its context is just a pretext”.  And the context in which we look at this question has to include, not only the huge cultural changes since Biblical times, but also and most importantly the teachings of Jesus.  I think of two sayings in particular.  “I am come that they might have life in all its fullness” – and for me, “they” must include all humanity, gay as well as straight.  And “by their fruits you shall know them”.  I know a number of gay Christians and cannot in my deepest conscience deny that the fruits of the Spirit are obvious in them – not in spite of their gayness but perhaps even because of it.

So what about gay marriage?  Gay people have been granted civil partnerships.  In some churches, though not alas the Church of England yet – at least not officially – those partnerships can be separately blessed.    So why insist on marriage?  Isn’t this just those pesky gays demanding absolute equality with “us” straight people?  (I use the us and them language deliberately, but of course it’s not Christian.)

It depends on what you mean by marriage.  Is it inherently about the creation of a new family through the mating of two people of opposite sexes?  I know some gay Christians who would agree with that.  I know others for whom the concept of marriage carries too much baggage to be seen as a partnership of equals.  But equally I know some who are hurting deeply because they feel excluded from an institution which they see as basic to society and affirms everything they want to affirm.  I think of Sharon, a pastor in the Metropolitan Community Church which ministers mostly to gays, and her partner Franka.  I know how much this means to them.

By their fruits you shall know them.  I am come that they might have life in all its fullness.  For me, the fundamental teachings of Jesus have to be determinative in deciding issues like this.  Certainly, if gay marriage were introduced, the nature of marriage as a concept would be changed.  But it has constantly been changing.  If you don’t believe me, read Jane Austen!  In many ways I am agnostic about gay marriage, but I simply have to hear the hurt of my friends Sharon and Franka and thousands like them.

St Peter in Acts chapter 10 was faced with a very irregular and unnatural[3] situation, when a group of Gentiles – outsiders who were banned from membership of God’s people – responded to the Gospel of Jesus and showed signs of being possessed by the Holy Spirit.  This wasn’t meant to happen in Peter’s world!  And he was forced to ask “Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to these people, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as much as we have?”  I equally find myself forced to ask “Could anyone refuse the sacrament of marriage to Sharon and Franka?”

Marriage and cohabitation, and does it matter?

What do we mean by marriage?  We may think of it as a very defined legal and perhaps religious status based on a once-for-all ceremony without which you aren’t married. It didn’t mean that in this country until the Hardwicke Act of the mid-18th century.  Before that a lot of “marriages” were much more informal – they might start with betrothal or even with pregnancy, and were often tied up (literally) with dowries.  In other cultures, there has been even more variation (see Duncan Dormor, Just Cohabiting?)

There is a lot of teaching about marriage in the Bible – and also a great deal which has been read into that teaching and elaborated it.  Marriage, we are told, is meant to be exclusive – one on one, forsaking all others.  It is meant to be for life, entered into unconditionally.  It is the only safe framework for a sexual relationship[4], and certainly the only proper framework for the upbringing of children.  Interestingly, there is nothing in there about licenses or ceremonies, let alone bridesmaids or confetti.  So the question “what makes a marriage a marriage” is left rather open.

At its best, the Christian vision of marriage is very wonderful.  At its worst, it can be just too much for sinful human beings to bear.  In the form we know it, it is a huge package, a very big deal both for individuals and for society, and it is understandable why some people are nervous about it.

Various developments in society have led to a questioning of formal marriage as the only way for people to get together in a relationship.

One of them relates to the position of women.  A favourite feminist saying goes like this:  In marriage two people become one person – and that person is the husband.  If you read some of the great Biblical passages on marriage, from Genesis to Ephesians, it is very easy to come to that conclusion.  Marriage can be seen as potentially crushing individuality, particularly for women.  There are other passages in Scripture which suggest that this cannot possibly be a true understanding of God’s purposes.  But the direct teaching of Scripture on marriage can be, and has been, used in this way.  Now we have come to re-evaluate the place of women, and this, I believe, is of God.

Our attitude to love and sex has also changed.  The development of pretty reliable contraception is one factor here.  But there is also, for better or worse, a greater emphasis than ever before on individual self-fulfilment; that leads amongst other things to the idea that a relationship between two individuals is their business and no-one else’s.  I don’t think that can be fully true, as a matter of fact or of Christian teaching; but I do think it may be a necessary corrective to a sort of Fascism in which the individual and her needs is completely subjected to society.

And related to all that, our attitude to families has changed.  I mentioned Jane Austen last week.  It’s not so long ago, that amongst the upper classes at least marriage was heavily about things like property and handing it on through the generations, and links between families, and making sure that women were financially secure.  It may be good that we are less obsessed today about family, its preservation and its prosperity.  I would argue that some old-fashioned family values have been used for a sort of extended selfishness – my family right or wrong, and the rest of society can go hang.  Some of this is still part of the baggage that is experienced by those who have doubts about traditional marriage.

We know that a majority of cohabiting relationships today are not, in a legal sense, marriages.  In very many cases they are a stage on the way to formal marriage, and the church report Something to Celebrate  suggested that these should be at least accepted and preferably honoured.  In other cases they are an alternative to formal marriage, and there may be many reasons for this; I believe we should not judge, but, again, celebrate wherever faithful love is found.

So: does marriage matter?  In one sense, obviously, yes; it is as much part of the framework of mainstream society as it ever was, and above all so where children are involved.  In another sense, surely what matters is the integrity of relationships.  Love and faithfulness are important, and hard, but if some people in our flawed world find these outside marriage, they may actually be helping to challenge the misuse to which the ideas behind conventional marriage have often been put.

Can the Anglican Communion survive?

We’ve been looking in this series at some of the issues which divide Christians – including Anglicans – relating to sexual matters.  We have seen over the past decade huge tensions between the broadly liberal Anglican churches of North America and more conservative provinces elsewhere.  We’ve had the debate about a possible “Anglican Covenant” which was intended to put pressure on those parts of the Communion which are seen by others as going out on a limb doctrinally.  It’s all very difficult, and very painful.  Can the Anglican Communion survive – and does it matter?

Anglicanism has always been rather unusual amongst Christian denominations in its overt, built-in breadth.  Catholics, evangelicals and liberals, plus various combinations of all three, have been present and acknowledged for many centuries, sometimes very uneasy bedfellows and yet somehow “holding together” (to use the title of the Bishop of Coventry’s book on the subject).  This goes back to Elizabethan times , when writers like Richard Hooker struggled with the balance in church life between Scripture, tradition and reason – all of them being emphasised by different groups in that fertile society which also gave rise to Shakespeare.  Elizabeth I, who famously refused to open a window into men’s souls, needed a church which would hold together the diversity of her people.  And that is the genius of Anglicanism.  It is also its weakness – but St Paul tells us that God’s power is made perfect in weakness.

Paul also writes very movingly, in both Romans and 1 Corinthians, about diversity in the Body of Christ.  He didn’t deny that there might be limits to that – mainly where people were excluding others by their teachings or their behaviour.  But the overriding message throughout all his letters is that we should accept one another, in all our diversity, as God in Christ accepts us.  And Anglicanism at its best has always modelled that.

I think we have discovered over the past couple of weeks just how much – more than debates about evolution let alone about how many candles on an altar – issues about sex go to the heart of who we are as human beings and how we express that in society.  This is both about how we relate to Scripture (and tradition and reason) and how we relate to culture – and how we process all this in our personal experiences.  None of this is straightforward, and for most of the participants some very serious matters of truth and justice, as well as equally serious matters of personal identity, are at stake.  So maintaining unity is genuinely hard, and we feel that hardness in our guts, more deeply even than all the debates about the nature of resurrection and the place of the sacraments which have stressed out the church in ages past.

But this idea of unity in diversity is at the very heart of the Gospel; not only in Paul, but in so much of what Jesus himself is reported to have said, culminating in that great prayer for unity in John chapter 17.  We must go on struggling, under God.

We have said remarkably little in this series so far about divorce.  Divorces do happen, not just in marriages but also in other human institutions – including churches.  The Reformation was a great divorce, or rather a complex series of divorces.  Such events are, at best, necessary evils.  Some divisions are already happening.  We have seen a small number of clergy and parishes divorcing themselves from the Church of England and remarrying the Church of Rome over the matter of women’s ministry.  Some more conservative provinces from elsewhere in the world have established what is called the Anglican Mission in England.  As St Paul said, again in 1 Corinthians, such divisions are pretty inevitable and may even be necessary in God’s purposes.  We may continue to see some realignments at the margins; some may leave us, some may join us from elsewhere, as happens indeed in the life of Holy Trinity.  But I believe we can and must “hold together” at the centre.

Just one final reflection.  It comes from the experience of Street Pastors, which of course is not Anglican in origin at all.  Recently the national leader of Street Pastors, Les Isaac, himself a black evangelical, issued a statement making plain that Street Pastors was NOT going to oppose gay marriage, because any position on the issue would get in the way of showing the unconditional love of Christ to all on the streets.  One or two Street Pastors, elsewhere though not in Stratford, have left the movement as a result.  The great majority, whatever their personal views, continue to “hold the centre” in the name of the Gospel.  I believe the Church of England and the Anglican Communion can do no less.

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Equal Marriage, in Church: UK Government Proposal

The  British government has now released its formal response to the consultation on equal marriage, and the result is possibly more favorable to equality than we could have anticipated a few months ago. The original terms of reference for the consultation ruled out any consideration of marriage equality on religious premises, but the proposals now explicitly do include provision for same – sex weddings, in church, subject to some important qualifications (which the government refers to as a “quadruple lock” for guarantees of religious freedom). In simple terms, any church that does not want to conduct same- sex marriage, need not do so, but those that do want to – may. The detailed provisions of this are:

  • ensuring the legislation states explicitly that no religious organisation, or individual minister, can be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises;
  • providing an ‘opt-in’ system for religious organisations who wish to conduct marriages for same-sex couples;
  • amending the Equality Act 2010 to reflect that no discrimination claims can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple or allowing their premises to be used for this purpose; and
  • ensuring that the legislation will not affect the Canon law of the Churches of England or the Church in Wales.

The one surprise in the proposals, is that as the established church, this provision will NOT apply to the Church of England, or of Wales, which will be explicitly prohibited. This is because same – sex marriage is at present prohibited by Canon Law, but as the established church, “by law no Canon can be made which is contrary to the royal prerogative, customs, laws or statutes of the realm”.

Ironically, as the Guardian explains, this adjustment was made to take account of the fears over religious freedom expressed by the opponents of equality: a wonderful example of the law of unintended consequences coming into play.

Timing will also be earlier than was at first expected. The original promise was to introduce equality before the end of the current parliament (that is, by 2015). It is now likely that legislation will be introduced early in the New Year. It’s too early to say when the process will be concluded, but some speculation is that the first gay weddings could take place by early 2014.

Some key features had been widely anticipated. For couples who have been already united in civil partnerships, there will be a “process” available for  conversion full marriage. For who do not engage in this process then, conversion will not be automatic. Those who do not want their relationships to be full marriage, can remain in civil partnerships.  For transgender people, the provision for same – sex marriage means that there will no longer be the  current requirement to have an existing marriage dissolved, for legal recognition of a new gender identity.

Gay wedding mural, St Johns Scottish Episcopal church, Edinburgh

For the full report, see the Home Office “Equal marriage: the Government Response”, which includes an executive summary – which I reproduce below.

I will have my own commentary, later.

Executive Summary

1.1 In March 2012 the Government launched a consultation which looked at how to enable same-sex couples to get married. The consultation ran for 13 weeks, closing on 14 June 2012. Just over 228,000 responses were sent to us, together with 19 petitions. This is the largest response ever received to a Government consultation, highlighting that this is an important issue to a great many people.

1.2 Our commitment, outlined in the consultation, was to consider how to enable same-sex couples to get married. While we recognise that there were many views opposing this proposal, the majority of responses to the consultation (not including petitions) supported opening up marriage to same-sex
couples. We remain committed to changing the law to make civil marriage ceremonies available for same-sex couples.

Legal position

1.3 The consultation made clear that no religious organisation or its ministers would be forced to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. This position is already guaranteed under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and in Strasbourg case law. This response sets out a ‘quadruple lock’ of additional measures which the Government will take to put this position utterly beyond doubt.

These are:

  • ensuring the legislation states explicitly that no religious organisation, or individual minister, can be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises;
  • providing an ‘opt-in’ system for religious organisations who wish to conduct marriages for same-sex couples;
  • amending the Equality Act 2010 to reflect that no discrimination claims can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple or allowing their premises to be used for this purpose; and
  • ensuring that the legislation will not affect the Canon law of the Churches of England or the Church in Wales.

1.4 We fully recognise the unique position of the Church of England as the Established Church. Concerns have understandably been raised that, if the law in England were to change to allow the marriage of people of the same sex, this would fundamentally conflict with the Canon law. The Church of England pointed out in its response that by law no Canon can be made which is contrary to the royal prerogative, customs, laws or statutes of the realm.

1.5 We do not dispute the Church’s authority here; however it is equally true that Parliament is sovereign and can enact to take account of potential onflicts with the Canon law. In the case of marriage, the legislature has, in the past, sought to avoid conflict with the Canon law position by the use of exemption and conscience clauses so that the Church might take a position in conscience that is consistent with its teaching on the nature of marriage. So, for example, although legislation allows that people who are divorced to marry again, the Church and individual ministers have been relieved of the
obligation to marry such people.

1.6 We want to continue the constructive conversations we have had with religious organisation and continue to work with religious organisations on these protections as we prepare to introduce the legislation into Parliament.

Religious marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples

1.7 The consultation proposed that religious organisations would be banned from conducting marriages for same-sex couples. The majority of respondents on this point believed that religious organisations should be able to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples if they so wish.

1.8 The Government intends to allow those religious organisations that want to conduct marriages for same-sex couples to ‘opt-in’ while making clear they are under no obligation to do so. Through this system it will remain unlawful for an individual church or place of worship belonging to that faith to marry same-sex couples without the agreement of its governing body.

Civil partnerships

1.9 The majority of those who responded to these questions and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender representative organisations we met separately supported the continuation of civil partnerships for same-sex couples. The majority of those who responded to these consultation questions also suggested that civil partnerships should be available to opposite sex couples, though some argued that marriage should be the only option available. We remain unconvinced that extending civil partnerships to opposite sex couples is a necessary change. We will therefore be retaining civil partnerships for same-sex couples only.

Conversion of civil partnerships

1.10 We know that some of the 50,000 couples who have entered into civil partnerships would have chosen to get married instead, had this been possible. Most respondents who answered this consultation question supported the introduction of a route by which civil partnerships could be converted into civil marriages. This message was reiterated during separate meetings with LGB&T organisations. The Government will be making a conversion process available. This process will not be time limited.

Gender recognition

1.11 Currently individuals who wish legally to change their gender must end their marriage or civil partnership before a full gender recognition certificate can be issued. This can cause great distress and practical problems for couples. Most respondents who answered these questions agreed with our plan to change the law so that individuals can legally change their gender while remaining married.

Wider issues

1.12 Historic policy developments, in particular in relation to benefits derived from state pension, have meant that married men and married women have different pension rights. When civil partnerships were introduced civil partners were given the same pension rights as are available for married men. We propose that same-sex couples will be treated in the same way as civil partners and married men. Over time all pension rights will converge.

Next steps

1.13 The Government is committed to introducing this legislation within the lifetime of this Parliament and we are working towards this happening within this Parliamentary Session. Over the next weeks, we will continue to work closely with all organisations that have an interest in these proposals.

- Home Office

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UK Churches will host same-sex marriages

Prime Minister insists religious groups would not be forced to conduct ceremonies but added he didn’t want gay people ‘excluded’ from marrying in places of worship.

Same Sex Marriage
Same Sex Marriage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Plans for gay couples to be allowed to marry in churches or other religious buildings, as well as secular settings, are to be set out next week by the Coalition Government.

David Cameron’s move delighted campaigners for marriage equality, but it will put him on a collision course with church leaders and many Conservative MPs who insist weddings can only take place between a man and a woman.

Tonight the Prime Minister was warned he would split his party by trying to force through the move, which is backed by the overwhelming majority of Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs.

The Government initially intended to legislate for same-sex marriage in approved premises such as register offices and hotels, but has now significantly widened its proposals.


The government’s initial consultation document said it would not be possible for a same-sex couple to get married in church and other religious premises.

Under the new proposals, due to be outlined next week by Equalities Minister Maria Miller, religious organisations which do not want to host same-sex weddings will be given an absolute guarantee they will not be forced to do so.

But Whitehall sources say the best way to make the guarantee “water-tight” is to allow religions to opt in to hosting same-sex ceremonies if they want to.

Labour leader Ed Miliband and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg also support gay marriage in church.

Mr Clegg said: “It’s very important to remember that in our plans we’re not going to force any church or any religious denomination to hold same-sex marriage ceremonies if they don’t want to but I do think it’s time that we allow any couple, no matter who they are, to marry if that’s what they want to do.”

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said: “I hope David Cameron will not be deterred by opposition within his own party and beyond.


A government spokesman said: “We are committed to bringing equal civil marriage forward and the consultation results will be announced next week. We are very clear that religious organisations must be protected and that none will be forced to conduct same-sex marriage.

“EU law is very clear that this is the case and we will additionally bring in very strong legal locks to ensure that this is watertight.”

Although the UK’s main churches oppose the reform, other faiths, including the Quakers, Unitarians and liberal Judaism, support marriage rights for gay couples and have said they would like to conduct the ceremonies.

Welcoming the government’s announcement, the coalition campaigning for a change in the law, Out4Marriage, said: “We are glad that they appear, like us, to believe in religious freedom, that churches must have the freedom to decide themselves whether to allow gay couples to marry. We eagerly await the full details of this historic change in the law next week.”

- Guardian

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Marriage Equals?

Martin Pendergast

Hardly a day, let alone a week, goes by without added controversy over Government proposals to introduce a legal provision for same-sex marriage. The Government’s Consultation document, Equal Civil Marriage, is available on-line: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/equal-civil-marriage/ consultation-document . It is also important not to ignore the Impact Assessment document accompanying the consultation questions. I urge all CSCS members and friends who can access it, to respond to the consultation, individually or as groups, particularly specifying your religious affiliation, before its deadline on 14 June 2012. Continue reading Marriage Equals?